We’ve tested Hornady’s ELD-X hunting bullet in a number of different calibers and have been consistently impressed with its accuracy and performance in Clear Ballistics Gel blocks. It was time to take that bullet elk hunting!
*Note: This is a successful hunting story and video. The harvest is shown here and in the video.
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About Hornady’s ELD-X
ELD-X is short for Extremely Low Drag-Expanding. The bullet is intended for hunting across various distances.
The ELD-X® (Extremely Low Drag – eXpanding) bullet is a technologically advanced, match accurate, ALL-RANGE hunting bullet featuring highest-in-class ballistic coefficients and consistent, controlled expansion at ALL practical hunting distances.
ELD-X hunting bullets are known for their high BC, heat shield tip, and thick AMP jacketed shank with Hornady’s famous InterLock ring. Hornady refers to this as a hunting bullet with match bullet accuracy. From our testing, this certainly seems to be true.
I decided to use my tried and true 30-06 for this hunt, and turned to the 178 grain ELD-X because I knew I was likely to be faced with a longish range shot in open country. A high BC bullet like this is well-suited for this task.
We’ve previously compared 6.5 Creedmoor and 30-06 with ELD-X bullets.
Fired in ballistics gel at a distance less than 20 yards, the 178 grain 30 caliber ELD-X didn’t fragment, retaining 110.7 grains and measuring 0.615” in diameter.
It hit harder and created a larger temporary wound cavity (27.5”) than the 6.5 Creedmoor.
This bullet is also available in Hornady’s Precision Hunter ammunition, with an advertised velocity of 2750 fps.
About the Load and the MEC Marksman press
In earlier testing, I tried to overstress the bullet by loading it to 2860 fps with Ramshot Hunter powder and slamming it into ballistics gel blocks at short range. It held up splendidly. For the hunt, I dropped the powder charge to 58.5 grains, slowing muzzle velocity to 2790 fps. (Side note: always be sure to check loads and powder charges with manufacturer data!)
I assembled the cartridges using RCBS dies on the MEC Marksman press equipped with KMS Squared lights. The added lights are especially helpful and convenient. The MEC Marksman is a heavy, cast iron single stage press with tremendous leverage and a floating shell holder. It’s also American made!
I built this hunting ammo in new 30-06 brass with CCI 200 primers, 58.5 grains of Ramshot Hunter and the 178 grain Hornady ELD-X.
I ran Hornady’s 4DOF calculator and got a 200 yard zero.
I typically set the zero for my bolt action hunting rifles at 200 yards. This makes it especially easy to hold on target out to 300 yards. For this hunt, I had to take a 400 yard shot, and was very happy I had studied the ballistics chart! The drop between 200 and 400 yards with this bullet is 21.5”. Also of note, is the velocity for this bullet remains above 2000 fps out to 500 yards. I entered 10 mph as the wind value in the 4DOF calculator. I ended up hunting on a windy day, so these values were important to know.
It proved reliable and accurate, shooting just under one MOA at the range — typical for this rifle with quality ammunition.
About the Rifle and Scope
My hunting rifle of choice is a Remington 700 CDL, a slimmer version of Remington’s famous 700. It has a sporter weight 24” barrel which Gavin has threaded for adding a suppressor or brake. Even with this capability, I opted for a bare muzzle hunt. The rifle is pillar bedded, the barrel free floated and the Timney trigger set at three pounds. I opted for a simple and lightweight 6x Leupold with long range dots.
The rifle has produced a lot of success for me afield, taking grizzly, black bear, elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and more over the years. I’ve also got a near twin to it in 25-06 which has produced a lot of success as well. That particular rifle design and I make a good team.
Rocky Mountain Elk are large and abundant animals. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation estimates there are more than a million elk living in the USA and Canada. Though often thought of as a western animal, elk once roamed from coast to coast and have been successfully reintroduced to some eastern areas where they’d once been exterminated. Weighing between 400 and 500 pounds (or more), cow elk are known to be strong and very tenacious. They’re also excellent table fare! I tagged a large 6×6 bull elk years ago and have no desire for another set of large elk antlers on the wall, but have plenty of space in my freezer for delicious elk meat.
I was eager to hunt cow elk again. This time of year, the big bulls have mostly headed off in their bachelor groups, leaving the cows and the young to herd up. I sought a good-sized dry cow.
About AOA Outfitters
Zach Bruce is the owner and head guide at AOA Outfitters located in central Oregon near the John Day river. If you’re not familiar with central or eastern Oregon, it’s rural and sparsely populated with small towns and ranches. It’s also rugged with steep canyons, ridges, hills, and a beautiful river abundant with small mouth bass. Some of it is forested, but much of the land is open with grassy fields or rock. Zach and his guides pursue elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, antelope, black bear, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, waterfowl, and upland game such as chukar. In short, Zach and his guides are experienced outdoorsmen with tremendous hunting experience.
AOA Outfitters has a very nicely set up cabin for their hunters with everything needed to house a group of 4-6 hunters. It has a comfortable living room/dining room, well-equipped kitchen, large bathroom with shower and a loft with several beds. I had this place all to myself on this hunt.
A few weeks before the hunt, Zach notified me he had some cow elk depredation permits available. I hadn’t hunted elk in six years and was eager to seize the opportunity.
This was to be a true spot and stalk hunt. I met with Zach and Dale the night before the hunt and settled into the cabin for a few days. Early the next morning, we headed out in Zach’s 4 wheel drive F350 Ford pickup. We didn’t drive far before we started glassing the slopes for elk on private land.
Glassing is essential here. I used my Zeiss 10x binoculars, Dale had his binos, and Zach employed both binoculars and his very impressive Swarovski spotting scope. At this time of year, in January, cow elk are found both in small groups scattered across the landscape and in large herds of dozens or even hundreds of elk.
It wasn’t long before we saw small groups of cow elk, including one small band almost directly above us atop a steep ridge. The three of us set out to approach them, going up a nearby draw, paralleling, and walking in the small stream before cutting sharply uphill, attempting to come at the group from a better angle. Climbing this ridge was a pretty good test of my strength and endurance. I was recovering from an Achilles tendon injury and was not in good condition for serious hiking and climbing. The ridge was steep and strewn with rocks. Mud lay between the rocks, the ground saturated with recent snowmelt and rain. Our boots made sucking sounds pulling free from the mud as we worked our way up the ridge.
Cow elk hunts are often considered “easy” and stereotypically involve shooting one in a flat farm field. This hunt proved to be more challenging.
We used the wind to conceal our movement and keep our scent away while we approached the spot where we’d seen the elk from below. We were moving slowly and quietly and I was ready for a shot at any moment. Sadly a covey of chukar gave us away and the elk quickly moved far out of range.
Plan B was to pursue a pair of elk we’d seen earlier. This meant descending the ridge we’d just climbed and moving up the adjacent ridge. By the time we reached the top of the second ridge, I truly regretted my lack of conditioning. Shortly after we reached the top, two groups of cow elk arrived. They came from the other side of the ridge, off to our right. Together they made a herd of about forty animals approximately 900 yards away.
The stalk was slow and cautious. We initially used terrain to mask us from their view. Mindful of the wind direction, we kept our scent from them. As we got closer, we used junipers for concealment, but began running out of trees at about 600 yards. At this point we had to crawl at least a hundred yards, possibly two hundred yards, to some small junipers. I was amused by this. Crawling with my rifle reminded me of my SWAT and USMC days, but this hunt was far more fun. Eventually we stopped 405 yards from the elk. I’d have preferred getting closer, but there was no further concealment available.
Zach set up the BOG Deathgrip tripod so I could shoot from the sitting position. We estimated the wind at about 15 mph, nearly 90 degrees from the line of the shot. My rifle was zeroed at 200 yards so I had to deal with about 15” of wind drift and about 21” of bullet drop. We patiently waited for one elk towards the far right edge of the group to hold still. She had no other elk right behind her, so I had a clear shot. Everything looked right to me, and I pressed the Timney trigger.
We could hear the bullet strike as it broke her “elbow” joint and penetrated deep through the heart. She staggered a bit, then seemed to rally her strength. The rest of the herd was moving swiftly away from us and she tried but failed to keep up with them. I was unable to get a good shot opportunity and we followed her to close the distance, climbing a small ridge. Finally, when she was between 100 and 150 yards away, I shot her again, putting her down for good.
Elk are tenacious and have a great will to live. I was so impressed with her ability to cover a couple of hundred yards with a broken leg and bullet through the heart!
After taking the obligatory harvest photos, we turned to field dressing and de-boning her. As I was taking the elk back over the Oregon border into Washington, deboning was mandatory. This is required as part of an effort to slow the spread of CWD, Chronic Wasting Disease. Dale and Zach, both strong, fit outdoorsmen in their late 30’s, did most of that work. I was impressed with how much care they took in keeping the meat clean and cooling it off as quickly as possible. Elk meat is delicious if properly cared for, starting with how it’s treated in the field.
When all the meat was in game bags, we put the backstraps and tenderloins in my pack, making it the lightest of the three. Dale and Zach split the bulk of the meat between their packs and we started our mile long trek back to the highway far below.
Upon returning to camp, we were able to hang the meat in a cooling room not far from the cabin where I was staying. I later transferred the meat into a couple of coolers I’d brought. The meat made the 300 mile drive to my home just fine, aided by the cool weather. Most of the meat went to an excellent butcher who has prepared game for me in the past. Collin Childers makes excellent summer sausage and for anyone local, I highly recommend using Wild Game Processors near Entiat Washington.
I kept the tenderloins separate and prepared a dinner at home with one, cooking it in the sous vide at 129 degrees for two hours before searing it on a hot cast iron skillet. Tender and delicious!
Hornady’s ELD-X did a great job, smashing the leg bone then punching through the heart. The sleek ELD-X made that 405 yard shot in a stiff crosswind and arrived on target with enough punch to cause significant damage. Also, Ramshot’s Hunter powder continues to impress me with 178 and 180 grain bullets from the 30-06 cartridge.
Cow elk can be difficult to hunt. They are alert, wild animals with great senses of smell and hearing. When they’re in herds, there are many noses, eyes and ears trying to locate threats. This terrain was also reasonably difficult. We got it done on the first day, but I freely admit that I was exhausted by the time we got back to the truck. Being in good physical condition is certainly important for a hunt in hills and canyons.
Elk is still one of the best tasting meats available!
I’ll be sharing great meat with my family as well as the guys here at Ultimate Reloader, who are catching the hunting bug as well. Gavin is especially eager to hunt with the Bergara B-14² Crest and curious how a 7mm PRC would do on elk.
Zach and the other guides with AOA are real pros. They know their hunting area well and know where to look for game. They are also very good at getting a hunter into position for a shot and properly caring for the meat once it’s down.
Get the Gear
*Note that the 6x that I was using has a 36mm objective, and has been discontinued. I also have one of these 6x’s with the larger 42mm objective and it is even brighter.
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